The 15+ Must-Know Backlink Types

Written by
Daria Chetvertak
Mar 30, 2023
17 min read

The quality of your backlink profile is arguably one of the most important factors that Google looks at when determining how to rank your website. In the world of SEO, building high-quality backlinks is the key that unlocks previously untapped visibility and rankings on your website. 

That being said, most SEO practitioners spend months, if not years, perfecting the following strategies: developing relationships with website owners, creating effective content strategies, profiling relevant resources, building links and so forth. SEOs also often pay a lot of attention to diversity, so to naturalize your link building strategy for Google, you’ll need to get different types of backlinks. This is why you’ll need to know what kinds of links there are and which ones to use. Since here isn’t one backlink type, the best strategy for you will depend on the backlink classification of your choosing.

To help you figure this out, we have divided all of the backlink types into four groups according to different criteria:

  • By their link building process
  • By payment type
  • By page position
  • By link attribute

You may find that backlink analysis can be challenging at first, but SE Rankings’ tool for backlink search can help you find and check your website’s backlinks. It provides a complete list of backlinks for any website and also analyzes the backlink profile according to the following metrics: Domain Trust, the total number of anchors as well as the full list of them, referring domains and backlinks, the ratio between dofollow and nofollow backlinks, and many more.

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Let’s dive deeper to see which backlink types are worth your while.

Backlink type depending on the link building process

Let’s start by looking at the various backlink types associated with specific link building strategies. Each of these backlinks has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to understand how they work in order to create an effective link building plan. 

1. Organic backlinks 

An organic backlink is essentially a link placed naturally by a real person on a website. This person might think that it is beneficial for their audience and that it adds value to their website. Google will consider this backlink as a kind of vote in favor of whichever page the person linked to. This means that it’s critical to Google that the links you get are organic. And if you don’t want to take our word for it, just go to Google’s guidelines to see for yourself.

The number one way to get natural, relevant backlinks to your website is to create valuable, viral or evergreen content thatr other website creators want to link to. It can be: 

  • 📝 Studies with your company’s unique stats or based on users’ surveys.
  • 📊 Infographics with images, figures, and statistics.
  • 🎙 Video or text interviews with qualified specialists or famous people.
  • 💡 Ultimate guides providing useful reference material for bloggers and journalists.

Backlink examples like the ones in the screenshots below are typically organic backlinks.

Backlink to statistics
Backlink to an interview
Organic backlink

2. Guest post links

To get organic backlinks, your primary concern should be your website content. Guest post links, on the other hand, are a little different, as building relationships with other website owners becomes essential. To get guest post backlinks, reach out to people behind websites that are relevant to your business and who might be interested in your content.

Links from guest posts are an integral part of almost any link building strategy. These links not only benefit SEO (if all of Google’s recommendations are considered), but they can also generate referral traffic by being placed on websites that are relevant to your business.

Guest post links can usually be found in the bio section of a page, but sometimes they can appear in pillar content. One of the most common requirements, in this case, is that your backlink brings value to the article without being promotional.

Let’s see this function at play in the following case:

Backlink in a guest post

Gaining guest post backlinks is kind of like playing a challenging game where you must overcome several stages to successfully place one. The stages are as follows: finding potential websites that are interested in you as a contributor, doing detailed research for guest post topics, creating compelling outreach emails, writing the article, and many more. The process can be a bit daunting, but the backlinks you get will bear fruit as long as you build the right guest blogging strategy. To learn more about guest blogging, read our comprehensive guide

3. Press release links

These links are typically included in press release articles that are issued to the media to announce news, events, or other important information about a company. For example, a press release might announce the launch of a platform’s new tool or the opening of a new sales office. None of this matters, though, if none of the news websites you reach out to are interested enough in your story to share it. For instance, launching a free course or sharing viral news is often more compelling than promoting a commercial offer or product.

Press release links are a popular practice for promotion but not so much for link building because Google passes links in press releases and classifies them as unnatural. To avoid falling under Google’s sanctions, your press release links must be nofollow. We’ll cover this backlink type later. 

Still, guest posts are great for brand awareness, referral traffic and public relations, even if they’re not necessarily effective for link building. They are a great indirect way to get organic backlinks because the media exposure you get can help you find relevant audiences who will then link to your website.

4. Backlinks from forums and Q&A websites

These backlinks are added to answers in forums, as well as Q&A websites like Quora, Reddit or niche platforms.

Backlinks from forums and Q&A websites

To add these kinds of links, SEOs search for topics that are relevant to the company’s niche and respond to questions by providing a link to the most appropriate page on their website that addresses the thread’s topic. They give useful (not spammy) and detailed answers to these questions. Some specialists may also use targeted keywords to establish an appropriate semantic context for their backlink. 

The primary goal of getting backlinks like these is to increase brand mentions, which ultimately boosts your brand’s reputation.

5. PBN backlinks

PBN (Private Blog Network) backlinks are links built from a network of interlinked websites that are often owned by a single pillar website. This backlink type is not as popular today as it used to be, but some SEOs still use it. The main goal of utilizing a PBN, which provides complete control, is to increase the website’s authority. 

After purchasing one or more domains, SEO specialists fill them with content. Once the content is indexed, they organically add a backlink to their main website from a PBN site. This backlink can be from the PBN’s blog or homepage, but the key is to avoid repeating the same process on each domain.

PBN links are considered to be a gray hat SEO technique that Google doesn’t recommend because it involves manipulating PageRank. For this reason, and it’s a compelling one, we recommend being extra cautious about getting this type of backlink.

Backlink types based on the link attribute

Now, let’s move on to the next backlink type, which is based on the attribute rel='”. This attribute determines how Google will perceive a particular link, meaning it will either pass it, follow it, or classify it as sponsored or user-generated.

Since 2019, Google has recommended using nofollow, sponsored and ugc attributes so it can better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within its systems. All link attributes are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude. Links marked with these rel attributes will generally not be followed, but they are integral to the link building process.

6. Dofollow links

What might be called a dofollow, or followed link, is, in fact, just a regular link. It is the common type of backlink that is referred to in the context of the nofollow value only.

As you can see, there’s no such thing as rel=”dofollow” in the code because it’s the default behavior and does not require specification:

<a href="/">your backlink</a>

This all essentially means that without additional attribute values included in the code, links work as intended by the web, serving as signals that pass link juice and authority to the referred sources. 

SEOs typically aim for dofollow backlinks because they tend to bring the fastest results in terms of improving website rankings. Still, it’s probably not a good idea to have a backlink profile composed solely of dofollow links because Google might identify it as link spam. Below are some other important types of links that should be part of any healthy backlink profile.

7. Nofollow links

Nofollow backlinks are links with an HTML tag of rel=”nofollow,” which instructs search engines not to follow the link or pass any link juice or PageRank to the website.

Google introduced the nofollow tag in 2005 to combat spam and prevent link manipulation. Since then, it has become common for websites to use the nofollow tag for certain types of links that may be more susceptible to spam. Such a backlink type is integral to a fair link building strategy. Nofollow backlinks are usually used to avoid endorsing the website you are linking to.

Nofollow links

Whether or not these backlink types impact your rankings is a controversial topic, but there’s no doubt that they can increase your referral traffic and brand awareness. Plus, they can help you build a natural and diverse backlink profile. Having a dofollow-only backlink profile will raise the suspicions of search engines because it might seem that all links are paid and agreed on instead of being earned by the quality of the content itself. 

8. Sponsored links

The rel=“sponsored” attribute is also used for paid links, indicating that the link is a paid placement and not organic. To avoid being flagged for a link scheme violation, Google recommends using this attribute to specify that the backlinks were purchased for advertising purposes.

While the nofollow attribute was previously recommended for these types of links, “sponsored” is now the preferred option.

Sponsored backlinks can appear in various places, such as paid guest posts, press releases, news articles, sidebar or header ads, and in the footer. For example:

Sponsored links

Since these backlinks don’t pass link juice like nofollow ones do, they can be more useful for building brand awareness and driving referral traffic rather than for SEO.

9. User-generated links

User-generated backlinks with the rel=”ugc” attribute signal to search engines that the content was generated by website users. These links refer to comments, forum posts, reviews, or other types of user-submitted content.

User-generated links

The UGC attribute doesn’t significantly impact a website’s SEO rank but adding the UGC attribute is still good practice because it ensures that your website remains unpenalized. Comment links are usually spammy links associated with grey-hat SEO, so again, applying the UGC attribute safeguards you against this penalty.

Backlink types depending on their position on the website

Another point that cannot be overlooked is the link’s location on the website. The placement of a backlink can impact its SEO value, whether it’s in the text, image, widget, footer, or header. Let’s take a look at the features of each placement.

10. Links in text content 

This is the most common and the most natural way for a backlink to be located. It’s also the best way to get a backlink in terms of SEO, as such a link has surrounding text that provides additional context for it that’s supplementary to the anchor text. However, do not forget to ensure that the text around the link is relevant. 

Links in text content 

11. Links inside images

SEOs occasionally use images as links. For instance, you have likely seen clickable banners in the sidebar, in the header or in the middle of the page. These can also be in the form of a linked image located somewhere in the body text. Here’s what the HTML code of the image looks like with the link:

Links inside images

Keep in mind that text links tend to perform better and carry more weight than image links with alt attributes. Let’s break it down in more detail.

One of the primary parameters that Google considers when evaluating the relevance and value of backlinks is the anchor text and its context, which includes the relevance of the surrounding text. However, images don’t have textual context, making it more difficult for search engines to determine link relevance.

Plus, images are often placed in the secondary content area, such as a sidebar, where links have less weight than those in the main content.

Google recommends using text instead of images to display important names, content, or links, so if you must use images for textual content, use the alt attribute to include a few words of descriptive text.

12. Links in the footer

A footer, which is the area at the bottom of a website, is a commonly used location for clients’ and partners’ backlinks. But how valuable are they, really?

Links in the footer

Footer links are typically given less weight than text links and are considered secondary in terms of importance. Furthermore, since these links are often the least visible on your page, as not many people scroll down to them, they tend to receive less traffic.

13. Links in the widget

A widget is a web-based mini-app containing a link to your website.

The widget you provide will be in an HTML code, which can be provided to the website that you want to share your link with. They will embed the HTML code on the agreed upon (and hopefully) relevant page.

For instance, a sports betting website can place its widget on a popular soccer blog with relevant odds for an upcoming match. By clicking on your widget, users will be brought to your website. 

Numerous companies offer widgets specifically for backlinking, but you need to be careful with widget links. If they are not naturally placed, they can be considered a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Here’s a perfect example of what not to do:

Widget containing a link to your website

Backlink types based on cost

Lastly, we will discuss the different types of backlinks based on their cost. All backlinks can be divided into paid, free, and acquired through exchange.

14. Free links

These are the links you get at no cost. The main category of free backlinks is organic links, where you literally pay nothing. The next group of free backlinks is guest posting, but these require an investment in quality content, especially if you don’t write it yourself. 

Usually, free links are considered a white SEO practice. Google likes free backlinks because they are seen as a natural indicator of a website’s relevance and authority. When a website receives backlinks from another source without paying for them, it suggests that other website owners find the content valuable and that it’s worth sharing with their own audience. 

15. Paid links

Building links can be a long and tedious process. That’s why many marketing and SEO specialists may be tempted to acquire at least some of their backlinks through monetary compensation.

Paid links on a website

Paying for backlinks is considered a violation of Google’s guidelines, as it is seen as an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings. While paid backlinks can provide a boost in search engine rankings, they can also lead to Google penalties. 

There is, however, a solution for using paid links without violating Google’s rules: marking them with a sponsored attribute. Keep in mind that you won’t get link juice if you use this strategy, so think twice before implementing paid backlinks into your link building strategy. 

16. Links received in exchange for a service

As part of a mutually beneficial agreement, some companies get backlinks in exchange for services such as website development, web design, and server hosting or in exchange for links on their website. These types of backlinks are often added to the footer.

Example of links received in exchange for a service

Some web studios may offer discounted rates for website design, while some SaaS companies may provide discounts to clients on their next subscription in exchange for a backlink. 

Another exchange-related method is to add a backlink to your website in exchange for getting a backlink on a third-party source. This is also known as the ABC link scheme or three-way link exchange. There are numerous options available, but keep in mind that exchanging goods or services for links may be considered link spam according to Google’s guidelines. You absolutely must be careful with this backlink type.

Final words

Being aware of the various SEO backlink types is a crucial step in finding the most effective ones for your link building strategy. Remember that your link building profile should be diverse, but it should primarily consist of organic backlinks earned through high-quality content.

When working on your backlink profile, always consider your goals for placing the link on a specific resource. Will it bring quality traffic, increase brand awareness; or improve your Page Rank? When all is said and done, keep in mind that gaining links (and a lot of them) should never be your goal by itself! Do not participate in link schemes as Google will disregard them or even apply penalties against you.

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